Glover, Richard (2010) The use of numerals in experimental notation. In: Music and Numbers Conference 2010, 14th-15th May 2010, Canterbury Christ Church, UK.

This paper will discuss the use of numerals in experimental music notation,
investigating how they signify more than just a mathematical object but help to
convey particular attitudes towards performance to the interpreter. One facet of
certain strands in experimental composition is that of the music existing ‘in and of
itself’ (Manfred Werder): no external agent is represented through the compositional
process, and much care is taken to convey this phenomenological approach to
sound production within the musical score. Many of these pieces rely on simple
counting processes, following number patterns and the use of repetition to generate
material; what becomes apparent about the way these pieces are notated, is that
all text instructions are stated initially, thereby leaving the main body of the score as
numerical schemata only. How does this ‘numeral-only’ approach affect the strategy
of the performer? Does the abstract nature of individual numbers communicate
something extra-mathematical to the reader, something that would bring about a
particular approach to performance?
The varied use of numerals in scores will be discussed; Christian Wolff's score for Edges
places a ‘3’ amongst many contrasting other symbols, in a seemingly provocative
act for the 3 to be interpreted in a range ways. A list of numbers (something I have
explored in some of my own compositions) indicates a single continuum through
which to carefully proceed, and the grid of numbers, such as that found in Phill
Niblock's Five More String Quartets and Michael Pisaro's pi, ensures the performer
immediately perceives each single numeral’s position amongst the others, removing
any unique individual characteristics.
Pisaro has described the ‘necessary complement’ between precision of number and
indeterminacy of language in notation (Pisaro, 2009: 36). The paper will investigate
this notion further, examining the relationship between text instructions with varying
levels of indeterminacy and ambiguity, supporting a numeral-only score.
The role of the performer is discussed, building upon pianist Philip Thomas’s ‘noninterventionist’
model for performance. This approach exists ‘without reference
to any external stylistic code’ so as to ‘focus upon the production of sound within
the parameters of the score’ (Thomas, 2009: 91). This model is applied to various
numerical-based scores, and along with a study of relevant recordings, the
non-interventionist ideal is propounded with regard to the use of numerals as
communication of intention.
The younger generation are represented by Taylan Susam, Joseph Kudirka and John
Lely, and the paper explores whether there is any notable progressive lineage in the
manner in which numerals as carriers of content in-and-of-themselves are employed
by younger composers. The relationship between indeterminacy of language and
the heightened accuracy offered by numerals is explored further within their music,
and the friction between the two concepts emerging from these scores provides
an avenue for both performative and compositional research, opening up various
creative possibilities for the future.

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